Like the people of most of the nomadic communities, herders of Merak spend almost nine months in their pasturelands, away from home. Only during summer (June and July) they return with their cattle.

Summer is a time for gathering and reunion. They talk about challenges. Incidents of herders coming in conflict with wild animals are common.

The return of the herders also signals the initiation of the annual community kurim (ritual).

Considered to be one of the most important calendar events in the community, the 10-day kurim is believed to have started with the first settlers here up north.

“Since the establishment of our community, the kurim has been observed annually,” said Phurpa, the mangmi of the gewog. “There has not been a single year without kurim. This is part of our tradition.”

The kurim this year began on July 5.  The event is observed corresponding to the return of the herders and children are on summer vacation.

“Every member is accounted for and their presence in the village is a must during the kurim,” said Phurpa.

He said that the annual ritual is conducted to ward off illnesses and dangers over a period of one year. “The kurim is also for the King and the country.”

During the 10-day event, residents take turn and volunteer for to work at the gewog’s lhakhang. Apart from monetary support, every household contributes 2kg butter, a kg of cheese, salt, sugar and rice, among others.

One of the distinctive features of the annual kurim is the spirit-chasing event. During the night, monks wearing ritual masks go around the community throwing out flames to chase away evil forces.

During the last day of the kurim, a day-long walk (choe-kor) is conducted. Monks, men, women and children go around the community carrying prayer books. In the past, the monks used to ride horses while the female members of the community carried the prayer books and walked along.

The practise of monks riding horses during the choe-kor is now all but gone. Also the system of carrying prayer books female members of the community has stopped. Today, it is the students, boys and girls, who carry the prayer books.

Kezang Dawa, a herder who returned to the village last week from Khaling, said that the ritual is the only occasion when he meets his friends and neighbours. “Most of us return to the pasturelands right after the kurim. So we make the most of it.”

Younten Tshedup